Westfjords Power Plant Development Contested by Environmentalists

Strandir wilderness

Four nature conservation associations have brought charges against the development permit the municipal government of Árneshreppur issued for the first phase of the Hvalárvirkjun power plant in the Westfjords. Icelandic environment association,  Iceland Nature Conservation Association, Young Environmentalist Association and Rjúkandi demand that construction will be halted until the Environment and Natural Resources Complaints Committee has reviewed the case.

The development permit, issued June 12th, allows road construction to and around the area, a bridge over Hvalá river, building work camps and drainage systems, as well as geological research.

Auður Magnúsdóttir director of Landvernd told RÚV that there are several reasons for the complaints, for instance that issuing a permit for this first phase of construction, ostensibly for research purposes, is an illegal way to go about obtaining a permit for the entirety of the project. “We don’t think it’s legal to split planning like that, the powerplant is receiving its permit in bits and pieces.” Additionally, even though this first phase only allows preliminary construction, they will disturb the wilderness. Auður continues, “We also think nature conservation laws are being broken. Material for roads will be taken from a lake that’s protected under the nature conservation laws. The unspoilt wilderness will be disturbed by road construction. According to the permit, roads will be built so they can research the area but it’s completely clear that this kind of research does not require roads. So, they’re disturbing the area in the name of research even though it isn’t necessary. Really, they’re starting work on the powerplant and building roads they need for it.” Auður rejects the notion that powerplant development only concerns the people who live in the area. “Of course it matters to us. The unspoilt wilderness up there, the waterfalls and the lakes concern all of us. It’s an incredibly beautiful area, particularly precious and unique, at least in Europe and quite possibly the world.”

The complainants demand that development will cease while the complaints committee reviews the case. Auður stated, “Even if they only do a little, the disturbance can be irreversible.”

Last month, landowners of the nearby Drangavík also issued charges against the development permit as well as the land use plan for the area.

Whaling ‘Goes Directly Against Iceland’s Interests’

iceland whale

Japan’s decision to exit the International Whaling Commission and resume commercial whaling will likely have an influence on the export of Icelandic whale meat to the country, says Árni Finnsson, director of the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association. The pending exit has already drawn criticism from the international community, Árni remarked in an interview with RÚV, as has Iceland’s continued involvement in this industry. Icelandic whale meat is sold domestically, as well as being exported to Japan, which also buys whale meat from Norway.

The Guardian reported that On Wednesday, the Japanese government’s chief spokesman, Yoshihide Suga announced that the country would be withdrawing from the international regulatory body effective June 30, 2019, and in July will resume commercial whaling within its coastal waters for the first time in over 30 years. There has been a global ban on commercial whaling since 1986.

Not only does Árni believe that Iceland will face an increase in international pressure to discontinue whaling practices, he also believes that Japan’s decision will make it harder for the Icelandic government to distribute quotas for whaling catch that will be sold to Japan.

“I think that whaling’s time has long passed and there isn’t really any demand for this product in Japan. Iceland has every interest in protecting the ocean, in supporting and strengthening international oceanic protections against ocean acidification, climate change, and pollution,” he remarked. And in order to promote climate change cooperation and solidarity, Iceland needs to maintain good international relations.

Whaling, Árni concluded, “goes directly against Iceland’s interests.”